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Judge named to lead inquiry into shooting death of Donald Dunphy

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — A public inquiry has been called into the death of a man in a police shooting that shocked people across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Unsettling questions have gone unanswered ever since the killing on Easter Sunday 2015 of Don Dunphy, an injured workers' advocate, by a member of the former premier's security team.

The RCMP has said no charges are warranted but has kept its investigation and related reviews under wraps pending the promised inquiry announced Friday. It will be led by Court of Appeal judge Leo Barry, with a report due July 1, 2017.

The long wait for answers has been especially painful for Dunphy's grown daughter and only child, Meghan.

"It has been a really hard 17 months for her but today is a good day," lawyer Erin Breen said on her behalf. "Obviously she never wants to see another person lose a family member in this manner again.

"Hopefully there can be recommendations put in place so that we certainly don't have a repeat of what happened to her Dad."

Dunphy, 59, was a widower who lived alone in Mitchell's Brook, about 80 kilometres southwest of St. John's. His small home had shielding tree growth in front along with signs warning against trespassers, especially from government.

Dunphy was shot by a member of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary who served on then-premier Paul Davis's security detail. A retired judge who reviewed the RCMP's probe and the pathology reports, David Riche, said the officer fired four shots — including one to Dunphy's head from about one metre away.

Const. Joe Smyth went alone in plain clothes in an unmarked SUV to Dunphy's home after staff in the former premier's office alerted police about comments by Dunphy on social media.

The Mounties investigated the death, which was in RCMP jurisdiction. They reported that Smyth had assessed the risk as low and decided backup wasn't necessary. 

The RCMP said Smyth told them Dunphy invited him in, but the mood changed after about 15 minutes and Dunphy aimed a rifle at him. A loaded .22-calibre rifle was found beside Dunphy's body, according to the RCMP.

The inquiry will examine the circumstances surrounding the fatal confrontation, including the officer's solo visit and the fatal shot.

"It's obviously a matter of huge public concern," Justice Minister Andrew Parsons said Friday in an interview. Terms of the inquiry are broad and aimed at finding fact — not liability, he stressed.

"We want to know: How did this happen? Why did this happen? Who directed it? What happened that day in the house? What happened after?

"This is a fact-finding mission of inquiry which has broad powers to compel the production of evidence, to compel the production of documentation, to subpoena witnesses."

Whether charges should be laid may be revisited if new facts arise, Breen said.

"If any new information comes to light at the inquiry, it can be forwarded to the appropriate authorities and it could be acted upon."

Parsons also said Dunphy's history with Workplace NL will be assessed by the Office of the Citizens' Representative. Friends in Mitchell's Brook described how Dunphy had been pinned between a truck and a front-end loader years earlier on a construction site.

He was vocal on open-line radio shows about his struggles with worker compensation programs. But many in the community have raised doubts about whether Dunphy actually threatened anyone.

His Twitter feed on Good Friday included an exchange addressed to the former premier and one of his cabinet ministers. It referred to God "getting" politicians who ignore and laugh at the poor before they can enjoy pensions "they didn't deserve."

It seemed to culminate with the comment: "I won't mention names this time, 2 … dead MHAs might have good family members I may hurt."

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